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Setback scuppers Pyledriver’s King George challenge

Pyledriver has been ruled out of Saturday’s King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes at Ascot.

Trained by William Muir and Chris Grassick, the four-year-old landed the Coronation Cup at Epsom last time out.

He had been among the leading fancies for the midsummer showpiece, but a minor setback will prevent him from lining up.

Muir said: “We did exactly the same as before the Coronation Cup – we went over to Charlie’s (Hills) gallops, and Martin (Dwyer) rode him – he was delighted with him, he went magnificently. It was not a hard piece of work, but the way he came through it was fantastic. I walked off the gallops thinking, ‘It will take a good horse to stop this’.

Martin Dwyer and Pyledriver after the Coronation Cup
Martin Dwyer and Pyledriver after the Coronation Cup (Mike Egerton/Jockey Club)

“I walked across to meet him coming across the road – he was bouncing and bobbing and kicking. I thought then this horse has never been better, I couldn’t have him better.

“He was washed down, put in the box, he had a roll, everything was fine. He never took a funny step anywhere, then in the evening my head girl rang me, I was at Newbury races, and said, ‘Pyledriver is just not quite right on his off hind’.

“My vet came out while I was still at Newbury, and he felt that he was sore up in the groin area and we were thinking could he have pulled his groin?

“The vet then came out again on Sunday morning, and there is obviously pain there.

“We are hoping it is a groin injury, but we are going to make sure we don’t leave any stone unturned. So we will X-ray his tibia – if there is nothing there, we will scan his pelvis. I don’t think it is (that), but it will put my mind at rest. Then we can go from there and will know it is soft tissue.

“You can’t have any setback to win a Group One – in fact, forget Pyledriver, if there is any setback, even if it is the lowest-rated horse in the yard, I won’t run the horse if there is any doubt in my mind.”

Muir will not rush his stable star back into action – and although next month’s Juddmonte International at York is an option, races further afield could also be in connections’ sights.

William Muir trains Pyledriver with Chris Grassick
William Muir trains Pyledriver with Chris Grassick (Edward Whitaker/PA)

He said: “I am not going to put the horse under pressure. If it is something simple, and we will know in three days, we will wait and go to the Juddmonte International.

“If it is something that we need to give him four to five weeks, then he will have his break and go to some of those races at the end of season – (the Arc, Breeders’ Cup, Japan Cup), there are so many options.

“The worst thing is if you don’t take notice of what you’ve got now, then all of a sudden you’ve got a serious problem. I can’t take any chances with any horse. I am always cautious, more than anything else. It is very slight, and he has never taken a lame step in his life. I am gutted to be honest.”

Muir was convinced Pyledriver would have had an excellent chance to topple the likes of multiple Group One winner Love and Derby hero Adayar at the weekend, but he is already eyeing a 2022 challenge instead now.

He added: “I thought he’d win it, to be honest, I really did. I know they are great horses – the Derby winner is a very good horse, probably one of the best; I am not even going to be part of it any more, it is tough.

“I have never been so excited about a race, Saturday morning, I was doing somersaults coming off the gallops. That evening it was just a strain driving back from Newbury. Have I slept since? Not really.

“It looks a fantastic race. Love is a great filly. The Derby winner was mightily impressive, but the ground is going to be different to Epsom – the ground wouldn’t have worried me.

“We have had a great run with him, not just this year – as a two-year-old, three-year-old and now. We will return. He will stay in training next year – we can go back for the King George next year!”

Pyledriver primed for King George bid

William Muir is delighted with Pyledriver’s preparation for this month’s King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes at Ascot.

Muir, who trains the four-year-old alongside Chris Grassick, reports the stable star to have done everything right since winning his epic battle with Al Aasy in the Coronation Cup at Epsom.

Pyledriver dug deep at Epsom last month to get the verdict by a neck and win his first Group One race.

“He’s in really good shape. He’s done everything we’ve asked of him,” said his Lambourn trainer.

“He’s never missed a beat – so a fortnight Saturday he goes to Ascot for the King George.”

Pyledriver in great heart with sights set on King George

Pyledriver is on track for the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes after missing a Royal Ascot engagement to focus on the race.

The colt was last seen triumphing in Epsom’s Coronation Cup, crossing the line a neck ahead of 7-4 favourite and runner-up Al Aasy after a terrific battle.

A run in the Hardwicke Stakes at the Royal meeting was considered after the victory, but trainers William Muir and Chris Grassick opted to sidestep the meeting and give the four-year-old chance to fully recuperate.

Pyledriver’s recent work has suggested to Muir that the two-week turnaround would not have been an issue, but the handler is glad that he choose to forgo the Royal meeting and prioritise his longevity throughout the season.

“After his run at Epsom I thought we’d had a hard race and I thought it (Royal Ascot) might come a bit quick, so I made a conscious decision that I didn’t want to run him after a hard race,” said Muir.

“Then come confirmation time he was nearly bursting the place open and I thought ‘oh goodness, what do I do?’ – but then I thought ‘no, stick to your original plan’.

“He could have run because he was really, really fresh and well, he was jumping out of his skin.

“I think he could have taken the turnaround, but I want to space these races out because he could go anywhere and if I run him too many times in quick succession, will we get through to the Arc and those type of races at the back end of the year?

Martin Dwyer celebrates with Pyledriver
Martin Dwyer celebrates with Pyledriver (Mike Egerton/Jockey Club)

“I didn’t want to punish him, he’s a very good horse and I want to train him as a good horse, which I always would do with any animal.

“I don’t want to just run him in and out because he’s not here for that, he’s a very good animal.”

Pyledriver will bid for a second Group One success when he takes on the King George, run like the Coronation Cup over a mile and a half.

“At the moment he’s like a lion, we’re going to go for the King George,” Muir said.

“He’s in really good shape, he’s fresh as paint.”

Muir and Grassick’s stable star has become one of racing’s most popular success stories, something Muir attributes to the tale of his failure to sell as a foal and the underdog status he has gained from being trained by a smaller yard.

“He’s very popular because he’s very eye-catching and good looking,” he said.

“He does what he does and people like the story with a smaller stable.

“He’s a horse that wasn’t worth anything and he’s graduated to be a star performer.”

Coronation Cup hero Pyledriver likely to sit out Royal Ascot

Coronation Cup hero Pyledriver is likely to sidestep Royal Ascot and wait for the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes at the Berkshire track next month.

Joint trainer William Muir had pencilled in the Hardwicke Stakes on Saturday week for his stable star, but is currently minded to shelve that plan because Pyledriver’s battle with Al Aasy at Epsom on Friday has left a mark.

“It took a bit out of him – he didn’t eat brilliant for two nights but he licked up last night,” said Muir.

“The first night he normally does leave a bit, but the second night he’s normally back on it, so it probably took a little bit out of him.

“He’s got a Group One now, so let’s hope we can keep going.

“Royal Ascot was going to be the next race. But he’s going to need to knock the door down for me to be going there – otherwise we’ll wait for the King George.

“If he comes mad fresh by Monday when the confirmation stage is, then I’d think about it.

“But it was quite a battle on Friday. He might just need longer than two weeks to get back to his best. There’s no point going there if we’re not over this race.”

Pyledriver on course for Coronation Cup bid

William Muir and Chris Grassick’s Pyledriver is primed to bid for Group One glory in the Coronation Cup at Epsom next week.

The colt was seen for the first time this season when finishing second behind Sir Ron Priestley in the Group Two Jockey Club Stakes at Newmarket on May 1, a race intended to prepare him for his long-term Epsom target.

The Coronation Cup has been on Pyledriver’s agenda since his successful three-year-old campaign, during which he enjoyed two Group Two triumphs in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot and Great Voltigeur at York.

A Group One victory is now the chief goal for Muir, who trains in partnership Grassick and reports the stable star in fine fettle.

“Everything’s gone to plan – his work’s been great,” he said.

“He’s on target to go where we’ve said – right from day one, we’ve said that was his target, so he’ll go to Epsom a week on Friday.”

Muir was pleased with Pyledriver’s Jockey Club Stakes performance.

“He’s definitely where we want him – he was a horse that we were never going to take too much out of in his first race or really get stuck into him,” added the Lambourn trainer.

“You do take more out of them than you realise. But he’s right where I want him now, and he’s in great shape.”

This month’s downpours are likely to leave Epsom softer than usual for the Derby meeting, but Muir’s colt has form in testing conditions.

“The ground’s not a problem,” he said.

“He’s versatile and he can go on any ground you want.”

Muir sets sights on Coronation Cup date for Pyledriver

William Muir was delighted with Pyledriver’s seasonal reappearance on Saturday and will run his stable star next in the Coronation Cup at Epsom next month.

The Lambourn trainer expects the four-year-old to be “perfect” for the Group One over the Derby course and distance on June 4 after he blew away the cobwebs with a highly-encouraging effort in the Jockey Club Stakes.

Muir felt Pyledriver tired in the closing stages but ran a big race nevertheless in running the race-fit Sir Ron Priestley to two and quarter lengths in the Group Two at Newmarket.

“He’s come out of his race really well. His legs are grand, he’s trotted well, he’s eaten his food, he’s fine,” he said.

“He was probably just shy of match fitness and that left him a bit fresh. I did that on purpose as this race wasn’t the first and foremost.

“My main objective is to win Group Ones with him this year.

“The ground was very quick and, getting tired that last bit, he just rolled around, but he’s come out of it well. That will settle him.

“We’ve finished second in a Group Two and we’re in great shape for going forwards.

“He goes straight to Epsom now for the Coronation. Win, lose or draw, he was always going to go there. He will be perfect come Epsom.

“There will be no excuses there and there were no excuses on Saturday. Sir Ron Priestley was better than we were.

“Pyledriver had a little light canter on Monday morning. We’re very pleased and it’s onwards and upwards.”

Muir plots high-profile campaign for Pyledriver

William Muir has outlined a “road map” for Pyledriver, who he feels will make his mark in 2021.

The Lambourn trainer reports his stable star to have thrived physically during the winter and is looking forward to pitching him into the top middle-distance events during the season.

Muir has four races pencilled in from early May to the end of July, starting with Newmarket’s Jockey Club Stakes. The Coronation Cup at Epsom is the second port of call, followed by the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot and the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes back at Ascot in July, should all go to plan.

“He’s been cantering since early January and doing two steady canters for the last four to six weeks. He still moves like a ballet dancer,” said Muir.

“We won’t be doing any more than that for a while, because his first race won’t be until May, when he’ll go to Newmarket for the Jockey Club Stakes.

William Muir greets Martin Dwyer and Pyledriver at Royal Ascot
William Muir greets Martin Dwyer and Pyledriver at Royal Ascot (Edward Whitaker/PA)

“We’ve got a road map at this present time. If we meet all the criteria we’re going to go for the Jockey Club, then we’re going to go on to the Coronation Cup. They will definitely be the first two if all is in good shape, and then the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot and then the King George.

“If he wins all those we’ll decide where we go after that!”

Muir senses the son of Harbour Watch has greatly benefited from the winter.

“He had a fantastic break,” he said.

“He stayed with me in the yard. His break was an exercise on the horse walker in the morning, and then he went out in the field for four hours every afternoon.

“He then went into small paddock on his own in the afternoons – which was lovely, when there were no others out – and he loved it, acting like a stallion in a stallion paddock. He thrived and put on about 55-60 kilos.

“He was still a boy last year. Now he’s turning into a man. He’s got his strength very nearly. This year, and next year, should be when he’s at his peak. I’m looking forward to it now.”

Pyledriver on his way to victory at York
Pyledriver on his way to victory at York (David Davies/PA)

Pyledriver was a leading three-year-old colt of 2020, winning a pair of Group Twos – the King Edward VII Stakes and the Great Voltigeur Stakes – before finishing third in the St Leger over an extended mile and three-quarters.

He ended the campaign unplaced in the Champion Stakes at Ascot when dropped to mile and a quarter. Muir reflected on those last two efforts.

“I wasn’t disappointed with his last run,” he said.

“He was still a big baby and still finished seventh in the Champion Stakes and finished in front of Mishriff, and the way we rode him on the day nothing came from behind.

“We decided to ride him the same, but I feel being forward on the day was a big advantage. From that day on, he was on his holidays. We lost nothing in defeat. He did everything great for us.

“Personally I feel the Leger, in which he ran a fantastic race, left its mark. It took more out of him than we realised.”

Champion Stakes on the agenda for Pyledriver

A crack at the Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot is next on the agenda for Pyledriver following his fine effort to finish third in the Pertemps St Leger.

Having already won the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Great Voltigeur at York this season, William Muir’s stable star was strongly fancied for the final British Classic of the year at Doncaster on Saturday.

After travelling strongly for much of the race, the son of Harbour Watch ended up racing on the far side of the track in the closing stages and ultimately had to make do with minor honours.

Muir said: “He’s come home safe and sound. I wondered whether the race might have taken a bit out of him, but he’s eaten everything and he’s in great shape.”

Jockey Martin Dwyer – Muir’s son-in-law – felt Pyledriver failed to see out the trip of a mile and three-quarters and he is set to come back to a mile and a quarter on Champions Day.

“I don’t want to be dogmatic and say he didn’t stay. He didn’t stay quite as well as the first two, but I felt he was closing again at the line and at the end of the day he’s been beaten a length and a neck,” Muir added.

“He couldn’t quite go through the gears like he did at York. It didn’t help that he got a bump and ended up out on a wing on his own, but that’s racing.

“The Champion Stakes was the plan and I don’t see any reason to change it.

“I think he’ll be fine back at a mile and a quarter and if it did come up heavy ground, he’d handle that and it would mean you’d nearly need to stay a mile and a half well to win, which he obviously does.

“He is still a bit weak, which I’ve been telling everyone all year. He’ll be some horse next year, I promise you.”

Muir full of hope, Pyledriver expected to go distance in St Leger

William Muir admits it will be a dream come true if Pyledriver can provide him with a first top-level success in the Pertemps St Leger.

The Harbour Watch colt was a 40-1 shot when runner-up on his three-year-old debut at Kempton in early June, since when he has won the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Great Voltigeur at York, with a luckless run in the Derby sandwiched in between.

Pyledriver disputes favouritism for the season’s final Classic – and his trainer is in confident mood.

“The horse had a quiet week to 10 days after York, but he’s back in his normal routine now and he’s as fit as a flea,” said Muir.

“You don’t dream about how good it would feel to win, you dream about all the things that could go wrong.

“If it comes off, what it would do for me and the yard would be immense.”

The one big question hanging over Pyledriver is whether his stamina will last out over Doncaster’s mile and three-quarters, in a race that forms part of the Qipco British Champions Series.

Muir added: “On the dam’s side of his pedigree he will stay, but he is by Harbour Watch, which is why everyone is asking the question.

“I think he’ll stay. If he’d gone another couple of furlongs at York, would anything have beaten him? I don’t think they would.

“I’m in such a good place because the owners have said ‘what’s the worst that can happen if he doesn’t stay? He’ll get beat and then we can come back in trip’. There’s no gun at my head and owners saying ‘if he gets beat you’re shot to pieces’.

“He is in fantastic form and if he stays, it will take a very good one to beat him.”

Santiago is Aidan O'Brien's chief contender for the St Leger
Santiago is Aidan O’Brien’s chief contender for the St Leger (PA)

It is 19 years since Aidan O’Brien claimed his first St Leger success with 2001 hero Milan, since when he has added to his tally with Brian Boru (2003), Scorpion (2005), Leading Light (2013), Capri (2017) and Kew Gardens (2018).

The Ballydoyle trainer’s chief hope this time around is Santiago, winner of the Queen’s Vase and the Irish Derby before placing third behind star stayer Stradivarius in the Goodwood Cup.

Reflecting on that most recent performance, O’Brien said: “It maybe didn’t work as we’d liked. We usually like to take our time on him and he just hit the gates on Ryan (Moore) and he couldn’t really get him back. He was just sitting in the second position and Ryan would have felt maybe he was a gear too high all the way.

“Because of that he went from travelling very well to having to drop him and ask him to go and race very quickly and he really didn’t get his breath to go again.

“It didn’t really work, but it didn’t do him any harm and he seems to be in good form. We had to give him a little bit of an easy time after it, because obviously when things don’t work or go smooth for a horse usually they have a harder race, but he seems to be in good form again.”

Frankie Dettori partners Santiago and rates Pyledriver as his chief threat.

He said: “Santiago is a Classic winner, he stayed two miles at Goodwood. In an open race, he’s a great ride.

“William Muir’s horse is the one to beat – without a doubt. You need class to stay – and he’s got class.”

O’Brien also saddles Dawn Patrol and Mythical, while his son Joseph is represented by a major contender in Galileo Chrome, who will be ridden Tom Marquand after regular pilot Shane Crosse returned a positive test for Covid-19 on Friday morning, before travelling from Ireland.

The son of Australia is three from three this season, but faces a step up in class.

O’Brien junior said: “Last time out he quickened up impressively, he showed a big turn of foot. It was quite a hot race, obviously not as hot as the St Leger, but it was quite hot and he couldn’t have been any more impressive.

“I think he goes there with a good each-way chance. He’s got to step up a little to win, but we’re hoping he’ll run very well.”

Hukum is a similarly progressive type for trainer Owen Burrows and owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, having impressed in winning the King George V Stakes at the Royal meeting and the Geoffrey Freer at Newbury so far this season.

The owner’s racing manager, Angus Gold, said: “We’re still learning about him, he’s lightly raced for the time of year, but he’s done everything well this season.

“Last year I thought he was going to be a lovely horse for this year but he was disappointing us in the spring, everyone told me he was showing nothing.

Hukum on his way to winning the Geoffrey Freer Stakes
Hukum on his way to winning the Geoffrey Freer Stakes (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“We went to Ascot to see where we were and obviously he won that well and it that turned a light on in his head. He’s done really well since.

“Hopefully he’ll run a very good race. I’m not saying he’s going to win a Leger, but I don’t think he’ll be far away.

“Owen has been at pains to say he’s not simply a stayer, but at the same time he stayed well enough at Newbury to make you think he won’t be beaten for stamina. He might not be good enough, but I’ll be surprised if it’s a lack of stamina that beats him.

“Hopefully next year we’ll be looking at races like the Hardwicke and the King George.”

Tyson Fury looked the part on his Doncaster debut
Tyson Fury looked the part on his Doncaster debut (Nigel Kirby/PA)

Tyson Fury was a winner on his debut at Doncaster in early July, but has not been seen in competitive action since.

There was talk his boxing namesake might be in attendance this weekend, but with the general public no longer permitted to attend following a change in protocols, that now appears unlikely.

Trainer Richard Spencer said: “It’s a tall ask, obviously, but his work has been good and he’s the only unbeaten horse in the race!

“I think Tyson will be watching at home, so fingers crossed the horse runs a nice race.”

Mark Johnston’s Subjectivist, the Andrew Balding-trained Berkshire Rocco, David Simcock’s Mohican Heights and Sunchart from Andrew Slattery’s yard complete the line-up after the Grand Prix de Paris-bound English King was, as expected, declared a non-runner.

Pyledriver tops St Leger dozen

Pyledriver is among a field of 12 for the Pertemps St Leger at Doncaster.

William Muir’s stable star will try to complete his fairytale rise on Saturday, after victories in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Great Voltigeur at York.

The Lambourn trainer’s ace will face the might of Ballydoyle, with Aidan O’Brien three-handed as he aims to win the Leger for a seventh time. Irish Derby hero Santiago heads his team, completed by Dawn Patrol and Mythical.

Joseph O’Brien’s Galileo Chrome and Sunchart, trained by Andy Slattery, are the other Irish-based runners.

Ed Walker has declared English King, but the Lingfield Derby Trial victor is more likely to go to France for Sunday’s Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris at ParisLongchamp.

Walker told Sky Sports Racing: “We’ve declared for the St Leger – but the plan for a long time has been to head to France, and we’re still very much leaning that way.

“We’re just very concerned about travel arrangements and the changing world of Covid. With numbers increasing here, the last thing in the world we want is for France to slap a two-week quarantine on people coming from England to France and then we can’t go – so we’re just covering all angles.

“We have to decide finally by 8.30am tomorrow, so it basically gives us an extra day to see how the water lies. If everything is equal we’ll be going to Paris on Sunday.

“Tom (Marquand) is booked to ride in the Leger, because I told Frankie (Dettori) a few weeks ago we were very unlikely to run in the Leger – and as far as I understand, Frankie is riding Santiago.

“Frankie is already (set to be) in France to ride Stradivarius, so I think we’ve got everything covered. It’s a huge day for Bjorn (Nielsen, owner) with Stradivarius back over a mile and a half in the Prix Foy on his way to the Arc.

“I think English King is as good as I’ve had him all year, to be honest. I know he’s got doubters now but I’m not one and I’m hoping this weekend he’ll prove them all wrong.”

Hukum (left) was a decisive winner of Newbury's Geoffrey Freer Stakes
Hukum (left) was a decisive winner of Newbury’s Geoffrey Freer Stakes (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Hukum, winner of the Geoffrey Freer Stakes at Newbury, will bid to give his trainer Owen Burrows a first Classic triumph at Doncaster.

Berkshire Rocco, Mohican Heights, Subjectivist and Tyson Fury complete the dozen hopefuls.

The three withdrawals at the 48-hour final declaration stage were Max Vega, Tiger Moth and Believe In Love – due to run in the Park Hill Stakes at Doncaster on Thursday afternoon.

Chindit is set to put his unbeaten record on the line at Doncaster
Chindit is set to put his unbeaten record on the line at Doncaster (Bill Selwyn/PA)

Richard Hannon’s unbeaten colt Chindit faces six opponents in the Group Two bet365 Champagne Stakes.

Among the Ascot Listed race winner’s rivals are the experienced pair of Broxi and Devious Company, as well as Owen Burrows’ Albasheer and Irish raider State Of Rest.

Two past winners of the Prix de la Foret – Limato and One Master – are among eight runners in the Group Two bet365 Park Stakes.

Wichita, runner-up in the 2000 Guineas, and Jersey Stakes scorer Molatham represent the Classic generation.